I first read The Grapes of Wrath in AP English during my senior year of high school. I was immediately drawn to the book because of the similarity in stories I'd heard from my grandmother about the coal companies coming into West Virginia and other states in the sounth and taking the land away from families who'd lived on it for years. Many of these families either became workers in the dangerous mines or moved to Ohio, Michigan, and other areas to find work. Many who did move were forced into work in unsafe factories and live destitute lives. I highly recommend Denise Giardina's Storming Heaven for a beautifully written and powerful story of the impact of coal mines on one community in West Virginia OR Harriet Arnow's The Dollmaker, an equally powerful book, for a look at the lives of one family who was uprooted from their KY home (not because of a coal company) and struggled to survive in Detroit during post-WWII.
Something about family survival and courage through hardship is a compelling subject to me, and no book has been more compelling than The Grapes of Wrath, a book that I've read multiple times since AP English class so many years ago. The Joads are not your typical perfect family, but they love each other in their own ways, and each time I read it, my heart breaks knowing what is going to happen to them and knowing that their lives are going to be filled with false hopes, pain, and sadness.
I remember the first time I read the book when I was 17, the ending with Rose-of-Sharon nursing the dying man made me a bit uncomfortable, and I've heard that it was quite controversial when published in the 30's.
Steinbeck is one of my favorite American authors, and his eloquent, beautiful, and heart-wrenching writing makes this one of my favorite books of all time. Many assert that this is his masterpiece, and I tend to agree.